Conference takes a fresh look at the “insides” of Jewish day schools

More than 70 scholars of Jewish education, Jewish day school leaders, philanthropists, and other educators gathered at Brandeis on Monday, April 30 and Tuesday, May 1 for “Inside Jewish Day Schools,” the first conference of its kind to focus on teaching and learning in the Jewish day school environment.

The conference was hosted by the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, with support from the AVI CHAI Foundation, and was co-chaired by Brandeis professors Jon A. Levisohn and Jonathan B. Krasner. Participants discussed the purposes of day school education, the aspirations of its practitioners, and the knowledge, skills, and behaviors of its students and alumni, as well as some of the central challenges facing educators within the Jewish day school environment, in order to generate a broader conversation about teaching and learning in these schools.

“This was an opportunity for experts in the field to share the state of our knowledge and for the presentation of cutting-edge research by both researchers and, notably, practitioners as well,” said Jon Levisohn. Referring to plenary sessions at the conference that explored race and ethnicity, class and economic justice, and gender and sexuality, he added, “We were able to pursue a set of conversations that don’t typically happen in the Jewish day school community—or if they do, they occur at the margins, not at the center.”

Jonathan Krasner concurred. “The conference succeeded in laying the groundwork for crucial conversations around race, equity, class privilege and gender identity that we need to be having in Jewish day schools. I anticipate that its impact will also reverberate in the scholarly research agenda around teaching and learning and school culture.”

In addition, scholars and practitioners presented their current research in breakout sessions. These included presentations on pluralism, teacher preparation, and teachers’ conceptions of purposes, as well as the teaching and learning of classical Jewish texts, Hebrew language, and Israel.

Rivka Press Schwartz, associate principal of SAR High School in the Bronx and a published scholar in the history of science, said “Because of my own particular educational and professional trajectory, I have little exposure to or knowledge of the academic work and literature around Jewish education, and this conference gave me a great deal to think about.”

“It was a gift to have the opportunity to hear about the research being done in the field, to re-connect with so many excellent progressive education minded peers, and to meet new ones,” said Amanda Pogany, head of school of Luria Academy of Brooklyn.

Ideas and insights from the conference have already started to circulate through the Jewish day school world through social media, and a number of short online articles will be forthcoming. In addition, Levisohn and Krasner plan to publish a selection of papers from the conference in an edited volume.

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences

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